Sometimes you come across a book that shows the skill of its creator in every line. Andrew Davidson, a Canadian who has taught English in Japan, illuminates his first novel with knowledge and tints it with his life. The result is The Gargoyle, already garnering international acclaim.
“Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love.” The first line chips away at expectations, which fall far away from the narration of a car accident that follows. The debauched atheist spends two months in a coma, and comes out of it to find his beauty reduced to a charred hulk. He fully comes to terms with the fact that his morals, like his biological parents and foster parents, have abandoned him to the world. Morphine becomes his only solace from crippling depression. He faces agony by merely existing, and cynicism slithers through his survival and treatment. Life is a long, uphill battle as society’s monster has him looking forward to an elaborate suicide.
This book gives us a plot infinitely more gripping than those of the adult films that were this man’s former livelihood. The language has the polish of rich imagery. Davidson wields his main character’s namelessness well, emphasizing how identity can be lost to the void of a twisted life. The reader wonders where the author ends and she begins, with the book caught in between.
Allegories of the protagonist’s lacking relationships give us a material dense with potential – just when the back-story approaches crushing melodrama, the present unveils Marianne. This apparent schizophrenic is one of his last visitors, claiming that the two of them have been lovers for centuries through the contents of different lives.
Marianne takes the burned man into her fortress of a home, where he meets her gargoyles. The sculptress has made stone chimeras of horror and beauty, and her mind similarly melds truth and lies. Religious mania fuels her claims that the gargoyles “wait to be born,” that her three hearts belong to Masters that have stayed constant throughout her life spans. She calls carving a “subtracting art,” where the finished product is less than the material. Her shaping of perception takes the two of them one step behind her feverish craft, and the narrator is left even more horribly human than her world renown creations. He learns that God has told Marianne that she has 27 more creations to sculpt, and then she is free to die.
As the narrator swims through morphine, he is equally addicted to his caretaker’s comprehensive delusion. Several timelines supposedly weave them together in an immortal strand. Marianne claims she was a 12th century nun scribe in Germany, her life forever changed by the arrival of a badly burned mercenary. Other stories place them in varied lives: a Japanese glassblower facing the wrath of a lord, an Icelandic painter who falls in love with a Viking, an Italian forge master in the Black Death’s shadow, a Victorian noblewoman whose devotion brings her to her lost husband. The choice between love and death, cultures’ refusal to accept unorthodox relationships and unceasing duty intensify the present situation. Themes like feminism, homosexuality and suicide are sharper than the arrowhead Marianne wears.
Davidson put obvious research in his work. The suffering of a burn patient connects us to a character whose first addiction was reading, and the life of Dante surrounds mention of the Inferno like the present crisis submerges the protagonist. His hell is rendered in both mind and body. Sometimes he makes you laugh, and then feel shame for it. Drawing the emotions to thought is The Gargoyle’s stone hard strength.
The racing plot slows a few times with paragraphs listing description, and I had to work patiently to suspend disbelief. The climax carried me through a lovingly detailed hell, though, and I thought the book redeemed my efforts.
In this story sanity teeters with a flailing loose end, so do not expect many of the questions raised to get answered. This is a history bordering on fantasy, and exceeds many romances by pushing thought along with satisfying emotion. The last page leaves you with wonderings and satisfaction. I challenge you to let Davidson guide you through his modern inferno.